On the other side of the dressing area at U.S. Bank Stadium, junior point guard Ty Jerome answered questions about the celebration that was going to continue well into the wee hours Tuesday morning.
But he also reflected on a conversation he had with Hunter and Guy when all three committed to Virginia as part of the same recruiting class, along with reserve forward Jay Huff.
“We talked about winning a national championship,” Jerome said. “That was the reason we came here. We said that outright. We said it openly to each other, and to be able to actually do it is unbelievable. And after last year, I was hugging Kyle, and I said, ‘We’re going to get one before we’re done.’ "
Jerome was referring, of course, to last year’s loss to Maryland Baltimore County, marking the first time a No. 1 men’s seed lost to a No. 16.
The remarkable about-face this season included a continued commitment to Virginia’s famed pack-line defense, but the outcome on Monday night also hinged in large part on the Cavaliers’ offensive efficiency, particularly among Hunter, Guy and Jerome.
The trio combined for 67 points and 22 of the Cavaliers’ 27 field goals against an opponent whose defensive efficiency ranked first nationally, according to KenPom.com, and was the stingiest in college basketball in the last 15 years.
All Virginia did was average 1.29 points per possession in the national championship game, breaking down the Red Raiders with 52 percent shooting in the second half and going 11 of 24 from three-point range for the game. Hunter, Guy and Jerome combined for 10 three-pointers.
Texas Tech yielded its most points this season after having permitted just 0.85 points per possession and 55.8 points per game in the NCAA tournament entering Monday night’s showdown.
“Yeah, we came in here together and said that we were going to win a national championship,” Guy said, “and to be able to hug each other with confetti going everywhere and say we did it, it’s the greatest feeling I’ve ever felt in basketball.”
To which Jerome playfully asked of Guy, who was voted the most outstanding player of the Final Four, “Are you going to cry now?”
Guy was the late-game savior in the national semifinals, hitting three free throws with six-tenths of a second to play in a 63-62 win against No. 5 seed Auburn on Saturday night.
Hunter took over in the national championship game, putting Virginia ahead for good at 75-73 on a three-pointer with 2:09 left in overtime. He made 7 of 8 shots and all four of his three-pointers after halftime and added nine rebounds while also playing stifling defense on Red Raiders guard Jarrett Culver.
Culver and Hunter are both presumptive first-round picks in the NBA draft, but it was the Cavaliers’ dynamic two-way player who produced in the most demanding circumstances, including making a three-pointer from the right wing in front of the Virginia bench to tie the score at 68 with 12.9 seconds to go in the second half.
Appropriately, Guy set the screen that allowed Hunter to get free for a clean look at the basket, and Jerome had the assist after drawing defenders to him on a drive deep into the lane.
“We actually changed the play from the first time to the second time,” Hunter said. Mamadi Diakite “usually pops on that play, but he rolled, and we knew they were going to help on the weak side, and Ty’s a great point guard. He kicked it to the corner. I had my hands ready.
“When I shot it, it felt good. It was on line, and it went in.”
Whether the trio plays another game together in college remains unclear, given Hunter almost certainly will declare for the NBA draft, where he’s projected as a lottery selection by multiple mock draft websites.
Jerome’s draft stock also may have ascended during the NCAA tournament, in which he averaged team highs of 16.5 points and six assists. When asked the other day whether his son would be coming back for another season, Jerome’s father Mark, in a lighthearted moment, declined to specify.
As for Guy, there are concerns about his height (6-foot-2) and whether he would be able to shoot regularly over longer defenders in the NBA.
“When they came on the recruiting visit, I remember telling them, ‘Look, the foundation has been laid,' ” Coach Tony Bennett said, referring to former players Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon. “I said: ‘We’re asking you to build on that foundation. That’s going to be the hardest step, but if you’re willing, we’ll take a chance.'
“For them to do what they did and how they’ve won, it’s a great story. It really is.”